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By: gwyned, gwyned
Sep 22 2014 12:00pm
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I. Introduction

It's nearly release time for Khans of Tarkir, our first glimpse of a world of ambitious warlords and cunning clans, all striving for supremacy in a plane dramatically shaped by the now absent dragons. If you're looking for superb analysis of this set's impact on Limited and Standard, I'm afraid you've clicked the wrong link. Instead, it is the purpose of this article to break down this unique set from the perspective of the Standard Pauper player. This set introduces five new mechanics as well as the return of another after a long absence, so before reading this article, it might be helpful to brush up on these mechanics. Last time, in Part One, I took a look at the creatures and spells that make use of these mechanics. Today, in Part Two, I will analyze the four Common cycles as well as three Green Morph cards that I accidentally missed in my previous article. Finally, in Part Three, I will finish off my review of the rest of the Commons in the set.

If you've read my previous set reviews, you should be familiar with my methodology. Rather than assigning a particular letter grade, I will instead note each card as a "hit or myth" and discuss why I believe this card will or will not be relevant. My reasoning is simple: unlike in Limited, you will never have an instance where you have to prioritize one card over another in any meaningful way, and thus a letter grade is not that helpful in actual practice. I also make use of a third category - borderline - for those cards that aren't great, but might see some play in the right deck. With that, let's jump right back into the cards!

II. Green Morph Cards

Although my intent was to review all of the mono-colored Morph cards in my previous article, somehow the three Green Morph Commons didn't end up in the article. So I will quickly take a look at these before moving on the four Common cycles in the set.

1. Kin-Tree Warden is perhaps the most unique of the Common Morph cards. Its base stats are a 1/1 for , with an identical Morph cost.  Most of the time, it's actually more useful as a 2/2 for , since even in Standard Pauper a 1/1 is almost never good enough to see play. What makes this card useful, however, is its ability to serve as a surprise blocker. You play it as a 2/2, and as long as it's untapped, for the low cost of a single you can flip it over and block your opponent's best ground attacker, then regenerate it to serve in that same role again next turn. Overall this is a nice defensive option, and a clever use of Morph without being overpowered.

Verdict: Borderline - I wouldn't send it off to war, can on defense, it kin be quite useful.

2. Sagu Archer is par-for-the-course for Common Morphs. It's pretty overcosted for a 2/5 with Reach, especially when compared to the iconic Giant Spider, which is one mana cheaper with only a single point less Toughness. And with its cost to play directly being equal to its Morph cost, the only real advantage to playing it is the surprise value of being able to flip it at Instant speed and ambush a flyer your opponent expects to go unblocked. Even after rotation, Green has better options for blocking flyers. The potential trick is nice, but doesn't seem good enough to make this playable.

Verdict: Myth - I'm na gana play this card.
 
3. Wolly Loxodon is somewhat similar to Glacial Stalker, in that it's a big beefy creature that's expensive to cast but can be played early thanks to Morph. A 6/7 is likely to be bigger than anything else at the virtual table, and flipping it over on Turn 6 for is right in line with Green's strategy of playing out big dumb creatures. But as is so often the case at Common, investing lots of mana into powerful creatures without evasion isn't a good strategy, since your opponent can either remove it cheaply or simply chump-block it long enough to win the game by some other means. Give it Trample or Flying, however, and suddenly you have a much more viable threat.

Verdict: Borderline - It's wooly big, but I would be lax if I didn't point out its weaknesses.

III. Common Cycles

One of my favorite aspects of a new set is taking a look at the so-called Common cycles, where a set of cards are linked together thematically across all five colors. In Khans of Tarkir, we have four such cycles: 5 wedge-color Morph creatures, 5 color-fixing banners tied to each clan, 10 dual-lands, and 10 monocolored creatures with an off-color activated ability. Let's take a look at each of these in turn.

A. Wedge Morph Creatures

This is a cycle of 6 mana creatures, one for each wedge, that cost three colorless as well as the three colors of that particular wedge. They each have Morph, and can be flipped for one mana less than their original casting cost. Each creature also includes one evergreen keyword ability, a relevant enters-the-battlefield effect (that is also trigged when it's flipped over), or both. Morph is particularly relevant here, since it allows you to still get value out of the card even if your mana- or color-screwed, and later get full value out of the card. In each case, you have to keep in mind that the power of the card is somewhat diminished by the fact that you need access to three different colors in order to get this. Here they are, in alphabetic order.

1. Abomination of Gudul is a 3/4 with Flying that also allows you to 'loot' whenever it deals damage to a player. This is the first time this particular ability has been tied to a creature with evasion at Common. Additionally, 5 mana for a 3/3 Flying is fairly typical, so getting a 3/4 for only one extra mana with a strong ability is excellent value. The abomination is also big enough that it serves as a great combat trick when flipped, allowing it to ambush smaller creatures or other flyers. While players will be loath to make such attacks into five or more untapped mana, this will still come up from time to time.

Verdict: Hit - This horror is quite gud, and I expect ul be playing it.

2. Abzan Guide, in comparison, doesn't seem nearly as strong. It does have the distinction of being the largest Common ever printed with Lifelink, and its 4/4 statline means it will be able to tussle with almost any other creature in the format and at least trade. But paying 6 mana for a creature without a relevant enters-the-battlefield effect or evasion is typically not what you want to be doing in Standard Pauper, and even for one mana cheaper, this still isn't great. However, on the turn you flip it, you should be able to at least gain the four life off Lifelink, which is a decent effect for the cost.

Verdict: Borderline - While this isn't an abza-lute guide, I'm not convinced this is quite good enough.

3. Efreet Weaponmaster, like the Abomination, has both a powerful keyword ability and a solid enters-the-battlefield effect, which is what you want for your 6 mana, tri-color creature. While the three point boost in Power can't be applied to itself, you should be able to get a ton of value on the turn that you flip the Weaponmaster; at worst, you should get at least 8 or more damage to your opponent. Indeed, with a 4 Power First Strike creature and another creature boosted by 3 Power, it's not unreasonable for this to destroy two blocking creatures. And even on subsequent turns, a 4/3 First strike will continue to be a dominant force on the battlefield.

Verdict: Hit - Timed for perfect effect, this weapon should be the lynchpin of your master plan.

4. At first glance Ponyback Brigade seems like a terrible deal, since a 2/2 for 6 without any abilities is about as terrible a card as you could find. It also has the dubious distinction of being the only card in this cycle not to have an evergreen ability tied to it. However, for your 6 mana, you get 5 points of Power and Toughness divided among four creatures. It's a shame these 1/1 tokens don't have Haste, but they can be used as surprise blockers on your opponent's turn. Overall though, unless this is part of a dedicated Token build, I don't think this quite gets there. It is clearly the worst of the five cards in this cycle, at least in my opinion.

Verdict: Borderline - This is not the pony I want at my back or to come to my aid.

5. Snowhorn Rider is the last Common of this cycle, and shares a lot in common with the Abzan Guide. At 5/5, it is the biggest creature of the cycle, and the addition of Trample means that it can use this extra Power to great effect on the battlefield. It's decent value for 6 mana, and very strong for its five mana Morph cost. It doesn't have any of the flashy effects of the other Morphs, but it makes up for it by being very solid. And if it goes unblocked the turn you decide to flip it, it does act as a virtual Lava Axe that sticks around to attack on subsequent turns. It's not amazing, but it is dependably strong.

Verdict: Borderline - You can't shoe-horn it into any deck, but sometimes it will be just the ride fit.

B. Dual "Refuge" Lands

Many in the Standard Pauper community feared that with the Return to Ravnica block rotating out of Standard that we would once again be left with only meager fixing at Common. And while we did not get the hoped for tricolor Lands, we did see the reprint of the Zendikar "Refuge" lands shifted down to Common. While not technically strictly better than the Gates (since Gate was a sub-type that affected other permanents), for all intents and purposes these will functional almost exactly the same, other than the small but not insignificant incidental lifegain when they enter the battlefield. In any case, these duals should allow players to utilize the best of the multicolor cards from the block effectively. Their presence will also weaken Aggro strategies, seeing as how they not only incentivize players to play multiple colors but it also rewards them with extra life for doing so.

Verdict: Hit - The Standard Pauper community can take refuge in the fact that Common duals are here to stay.

C. Wedge Banner Artifacts

 

 

 


 

Speaking of the Return to Ravnica block, that set also featured a cycle of dual colored Artifacts known as Cluestones. Khans of Tarkir features an almost identical cycle, save that they now tap for three different colors and require these same three colors in order to cycle them. The Cluestones saw almost zero play in Standard Pauper, and I don't see any reason to expect these banners to do any better. Three mana is just too expensive for effective mana ramp, and the fact of the matter is that these will be even harder to cycle than the Cluestones were, since they require all three mana. While these might be a necessary evil in Limited, even in Standard Pauper we have better fixing options than these.

Verdict: Myth - Please don't follow these banners into battle.

D. Mono Colored Commons with an Off Color Activated Ability

This final Common cycle in Khans of Tarkir barely qualifies as a cycle at all, since the only thing that unites these ten cards is that they are all creatures with an activated ability that is tied to a different color mana than that of the creature. While these are not technically multicolored cards, they effectively function like one. And with the exception of the wedge Morph cards, these are the only other cards at Common that play into the wedge theme of the set. Here they are, starting with White.

1. Our first two Commons in this cycle are similar enough to actual evaluate together. Both are 1/1s for , which is already a pretty big mark against them. Both also have an activated ability that allows them to trade with a much larger creature. In the case of the Firehoof Cavalry, paying is just too expensive; for the Mardu Hateblade, if you have access to Black mana, you might as well just play Typhoid Rats. The bar for playing 1/1s, even in Standard Pauper, is pretty high, and neither of these comes close to clearing it.

Verdict: Myth - I hate them both; hoof it on out of here.

2. Embodiment of Spring feels like the perfect harmony between Green and Blue for a low cost Common. A Control Blue deck is fine with playing an 0/3 for , and as soon as it is no longer relevant, you can chump block with it and then sacrifice it for a Rampant Growth effect. While obviously this is only good in a build that is looking to both play the long game and ramp into some large creatures, for that deck this seems a great early drop. Even in the late game, being able to get a single block and then thin out the remaining Lands in your deck isn't worthless. So while it's not amazing, it's certainly playable in the right archetype.

Verdict: Borderline - It's a fragile body, but in the right deck I would still spring for it.

3. Crackling Triton lives again in Scaldkin, which for one additional mana loses a point of Toughness but gains Flying, which makes it far more relevant. While Wind Drake saw very little, if any, play in the format, the option of converting it into Shock at the right moment is great value. And although the 4 drop slot in Blue is already occupied by both Chorus of the Tides and Cloaked Siren, in a deck with access to Red this is probably comparable in power level. So, while not amazing, it's a sizable upgrade from Crackling Triton, and thus certainly worth consideration in the right deck.

Verdict: Borderline - I kin tell you that this will scald many a creature in the weeks ahead.

4. We've had a resurgence of Defender cards at Common recently, and it's a shame that we didn't have access to Kheru Dreadmaw in Return to Ravnica block, as it would have been quite the powerful addition. A 4/4 for would be pretty good in Black, but with Defender it's a whole different story. On the other hand, this is one of the better sacrifice outlets we've seen at Common in some time, and it's cheap enough that you will often be able to squeeze that additional value out of your creatures. There's some potential here, but it will take just the right build to take advantage of it. And as such, it probably won't see much play.

Verdict: Borderline - It's not a dead card, but it's not maw favorite either.

5. Unyielding Krumar is surprisingly good. A 3/3 for with a relevant ability is the definition of playable in Standard Pauper. It attacks well, and as long as you have the mana up to pay to give it First Strike, your opponent is unlikely to actually block it very often. It also blocks very well, as First Strike creatures often make it very difficult for your opponent to get much value out of combat. 3 Toughness means it is certainly vulnerable to cheap burn spells, but otherwise this seems to be quite solid. This would make a fine addition to any aggressive or midrange deck with access to both colors.

Verdict: Hit - I'm hardly unyielding in my evaluation, but I think this is just good enough to make it.

6. Bloodfire Mentor has got to be one of the most expensive Merfolk Looter to ever see print. Rarely if ever does Red want access to an 0/5, and it certainly doesn't want to pay for the privilege. And while the ability to filter through your deck by drawing and discarding a card each turn is great value, paying is prohibitively expensive. At least as a 1/4 it would have been equivalent to a Horned Turtle with a decent secondary ability, which would have been at least borderline playable. But as is, I don't anticipate that this will see any play in the upcoming metagame.

Verdict: Myth - This mentor needs more fire in his veins.

7. Leaping Mentor isn't quite as good as it looks on first glance. A 2/1 for isn't good enough by itself, but add Flying into the equation, and this would be very solid, especially in Red. But paying every round to give it evasion is entirely too expensive to be worth it, and the single point of Toughness makes it quite fragile. Red and White both simply have much better options at the two-drop slot to give this much consideration. Perhaps with native First Strike or Haste or a cheaper activated cost this would have been playable. But as is this is yet another card in this cycle that probably won't see any play.

Verdict: Myth - It's no leap in the dark to say this isn't playable.

8. Archer's Parapet is a strange card for Green, in that it excels at both defense and Control. As an 0/5, it will be able to block almost anything on the ground, and its activated ability is cheap enough that it can probably be paid most turns. This means that you can effectively block one creature, survive the exchange, and deal 1 damage most turns, which is solid in a highly Control strategy. It's a bargain at , does its job effectively, and is even resilient to removal thanks to its high Toughness. While it only fits in a narrow range of decks, it should perform well in those archetypes.

Verdict: Borderline - I'm more than willing to give this a shot.

9. Smoke Teller asks the question, just how important is it to know what Morphs your opponent is playing? If it ends up that having such information is critical to success, then this will at least be a viable Sideboard card. A 2/2 for is perfectly fine, and the activated ability is cheap enough that you can look at multiple face-down Morphs in a turn. All that said, playing a card whose primary focus is to gain incidental information is not typically a great move. You're better off using your knowledge of the set to determine what Morphs your opponent is playing rather than using this card to find out. But against certain decks, this might be good enough to see some play.

Verdict: Borderline - Time will tell whether this is fire or just smoke.

IV. Conclusion

So that's concludes Part Two of my review of Khans of Tarkir for Standard Pauper. In closing, let me remind you that you can check out all of my previous articles here on PureMTGO by clicking here. I also publish over on my blog on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and encourage you to keep up with all my projects there. You can get a sneak peek at any of my videos before they go live here at PureMTGO.com over on YouTube.com. Simply search for "gwyned42," select one of my videocasts, and click the Subscribe button. You can keep up with everything I'm doing on Twitter at the username gwyned42; check out my profile here and click on Follow. Finally, I am the host of Monday Pauper Deck Challenge, which is a weekly PRE featuring a Swiss tournament in the Standard Pauper format, with prizes awarded for the Top 8 finishers thanks to the sponsorship of MTGOTraders. As always, if you've never checked out MPDC, I encourage you to browse over to PDCMagic.com for all the information and then come join us at 2:00pm EST / 6:00pm GMT in the /join MPDC room.

1 Comments

Reply to Richard Markwitz by gwyned at Mon, 09/29/2014 - 15:33
gwyned's picture

Reply to Richard Markwitz since I don't have Facebook...

Interesting points. I will take up the Ponyback Brigade in a blogpost this week and explain why I rated it the way I did.